Best-laid (kitchen) plans
We love to choose cabinets, benchtops and tiles for a new kitchen, but there’s a host of other important details to consider too, writes Colleen Hawkes.
We’ve all stayed in other people’s homes and felt the odd frustration about the way the kitchen works. Where’s the light switch? Why are the cooking utensils so far from the oven?
Maybe in our own kitchens there are things we know are not ideal. A colleague ordered a beautiful new kitchen with very cool overhead cabinets. She is vertically challenged but was satisfied she could reach the cabinets and open the lift-up doors. Problem was, once they were open, she couldn’t then reach them to close them again.
So much gets overlooked, and it all comes down to the detail when we plan a new kitchen. We love to spend time choosing the aesthetic bits – the benchtop material, cabinets and splashbacks – but perhaps we should put an equal amount of time into planning the less obvious things that have a big impact on functionality.
Followers of The Block series on TV at present will be aware of a problem with Stace and Yanita’s kitchen. They neglected to put in a power point in the main kitchen area for an electric jug or rice cooker.
Award-winning kitchen designer Mal Corboy says the position of power points and light switches is of huge importance, and needs to the considered very early on in the planning. He points to the huge rise in demand for Thermomix cookers, which means ideally there should be a power point at one side of the benchtop, where the cookers are usually stored. “You want it off to the side, not right in the centre.”
And today, there’s usually a need for a permanent charger station for electronic devices. Remember too, both charger stations and power outlets can be hidden within a pop-up unit on the island, so you can’t see them when not in use. PDL versions even come in a range of different finishes.
You need to think, too, about the height you want your benchtop. There is no “conventional” height. A work surface that’s the right height for a person who is 186cm is not much good if it’s the 150cm-high person doing all the cooking.
Corboy says tapware is one of the most overlooked items in kitchen design. “Many people order a lovely kitchen and then go and buy a cheap tap that doesn’t suit the style of the kitchen. A tap is one of the most used appliances in the kitchen, and if people spent a little more they could get a tap that looks better and works better. People tend to scrimp and save, but there is only $500 between a good tap and a bad tap.”
The designer says we also need to plan our tapware choice early. “Right now, I have been scouring the city trying to find two identical black taps for a client. Most companies don’t carry stock and there can be an eight-week lead time before they arrive. The same happens with bar stools.”
Consider, too, which side you put your tap. If you are right-handed, you will probably have pots, jugs or mugs in that hand, so it's best to have the tap and mixer lever on the left. Or vice versa.
It is not so difficult to plan when you have a designer, of course. They can plan the layout and show you what works best. They know all the pitfalls – for example, how much space you need to allow for open dishwashers and oven doors. They will plan the layout around the way you work in the kitchen, and they know how to maximise every inch of space and ensure you can access every cabinet easily.
They will suggest the best positions for items that need to be close to the cooktop, such as cooking utensils, oils and spices. And they will ensure there’s a good flow between the dishwasher, sink and crockery/cutlery storage.
Today, refrigerators are often at the side of the kitchen, where they can be easily reached by family members, so they don’t have to come into the working part of the kitchen to get a drink.
Designer Glen Johns of New Plymouth, who won the Supreme Kitchen Award in this year’s NKBA Awards says he always asks clients to choose their appliances early in the process. “We really need to know what appliances you like so we can then plan a kitchen around these.”
Again, it is helpful if you can tell them your preferred height for the microwave oven, and whether you are planning for wall ovens, underbench ovens or a freestanding version.
Lighting also, is best discussed with the designer. It’s not just the lighting above the island that matters, it’s those corners on the back bench that can also benefit from a good lighting plan. Today, LED strip lighting is not just about looks, it’s also about lighting up benchtops and cooktops from above.
And don’t forget those tradies, says Corboy. “It’s a good idea to have everyone teed up in advance, so you are not held up waiting for a plumber who has been given no warning.”
Corboy also says designers and tradespeople find it easiest to have one line of communication – that means one spokesperson for the family. “Right now I am working on a kitchen for a couple, and all the questions have to be directed to the husband. If I ask the wife, she refers me to her husband. It is easier to have that one point of contact.”